The weather didn't look great, and we didn't want to get caught in the forecast thunderstorms so we pedaled out of York early. The route south to our goal - Sherwood Forest - showed on the map to be quite flat. The estimated mileage was about 70, and seemed do-able for me, although the first five miles of every day were difficult while my legs and knees warmed up. I kept up with the guys for a while, but then gave up on the idea.
[July 7, 9:40 p.m.Finally some time to write and catch up on thoughts. I'm sitting in dining area of the Holland Park IYH in Kensington, listening to a bunch of American college students play bridge and generally be obnoxious. I have a cold. I must be physically stressed. Thoughts of home and work have been creeping around the edges of my consciousness for the past week - especially during long stretches of riding. As I write, male peacocks scream from their tree perches in the park. Fortunately this cold didn't occur on riding days! Back to finishing yesterday....]
As we regrouped 20 miles down the road from York at Howden, cycling past a garden center and tea room, we all noticed the name: California Garden Center...complete with the California bear logo. There were bikes ("Real Bikers") parked in front. We pedaled past about 1 block, braked sharply, looked at one another and said in unison, "Let's go back!" To have some tea, of course. The entry-way included a sign: "No Dogs Allowed. No Madam, Not Even Your Dog!" The owners had a delightful sense of humor.
Inside, the merchandise and interior design of the garden center was an architectural and design blend between the interior buildings of Buchart Gardens in Victoria, BC, and our local nursery. I browsed, coveting items too large to fit into my panniers, and too expensive to ship home. We settled into a small table in the tea room where a few other patrons, including the couple with the Real Touring Bikes, were enjoying comestibles. Mentioning to the waitress our California origins, and asking how the nursery came to be named California Garden Center generated a visit to our table by the 75 year old owner. We chatted pleasantly, he giving us the history of how it came to be named, back in the late 1800's, telling us that whenever the locals had the opportunity to name a business, if that person had traveled to the United States, frequently the business acquired a name relating either to the trip, or to the goods purchased in the U.S. The owner's grandfather began the nursery, and after a family trip to California, renamed it to include the California visit. "Here, let me give you these pens and a descriptive history booklet of Howden," said as he excused himself from our table. We had hoped he would also waive the cost of our mid-morning snack. After all, we were from California, and interested in his story. No such luck.
Off we went, expecting rain imminently. Soon we were strung out along the road, with me in my usual caboose position. I passed a young girl on horseback in a field. We said "hi" to each other. "Are you American?" she called as I pedaled away.
"Yes," I yelled back over my shoulder. One word, and she could recognize me as a foreigner. Or perhaps she chatted with Tracy and Earl as they passed by, and already knew the answer to her question...merely verifying that I was part of that touring group ahead. Or, perhaps it was the helmet. Most Brits cycle bare-headed.
This was agricultural land. The roads continued to be flat. The highest elevation gains were the motorway overpasses. Just over the crest of an M180 motorway overpass, a wide river of red poppies snaked through a green field, an explosion of color in the gray mist. I stopped to wallow in the setting. Again I imagined Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion skipping through singing "Follow the yellow brick road...." With camera in hand, I scrambled and crawled up the bridge abutment for an angled shot downward. I loved those poppy fields.
At one of our re-grouping points, a very small two-store town, I waited on one side of the downed railroad crossing gates while Tracy and Earl awaited on the other. The gates were designed so that even bikers and pedestrians cannot sneak through. They literally were fences.
The weather was warming, perhaps 80 deg. F, and humid. I biked for the first time in just t-shirt and shorts, and was warm.
[As I write, it is 10:10 p.m., dark, and outside a guitar is strummed - it is still warm [London] and quite humid.]
Mid-afternoon the road signs indicated a rest stop ahead. Exhausted and ravenous, I filled up my water bottles, drank copious amounts and refilled them, ate my banana, snickers bar, and trail mix. I chatted with a man from "over the nearby hill" who was out exercising his whippet and rottweiler. The black barrel-chested rottweiler was friendly and designed drool patterns across my shorts. I said good-by and pushed on. A hill greeted me. Invariably after a rest, there is a hill. I believe it is the Bike Tourist's Unwritten Law.
Passing through in the village of Haxey a celebration was in full swing. Sports activities were going on in the acreage adjacent to the road; families hurried into town along roads closed to vehicular traffic; men slapped acquaintances on the shoulders in warm greetings; women carried pie baskets - children dancing by their sides with painted faces and balloons on long strings clutched in their fists. The local Catholic church was 900 years old! I thought as I rode past that were I riding alone I would stop for a bit - after all, that's what bike touring is all about. But I didn't want The Guys worrying and having to come to find me.
Five miles down the road in Minsteron, Tracy awaited under a tree, book in hand. Earl wasn't there, riding up two minutes behind me. He had stopped at the celebration. We returned to Huxey. Earl wanted to watch the long bow competition, and was enthralled with his visit the church. Food and craft stands lined the curbs of the High Street, which was closed to traffic. Everyone was most friendly. One woman offered, "Hi. I'd be glad to watch your bikes here if you want to leave them while you look around." Grateful, we decorated the back wall of her booth of small plants with two tourist's bikes.
Inside, the church was massed with flowers while depictions and relics of church history were tucked away in corners. The timbered beamed ceiling was unpainted to accentuate the craftsmanship, a showcase of a carpenter's art, not just skill. It was a stark contrast to the highly decorative vaulted ceilings of York Minster Cathedral. In the church hall out back, the Lady's Guild sold sandwiches (20p!), small sausage rolls (10p), and various drinks. Truly bargain food, and tasty.
After inspecting the crafts along the High Street, cheering on the long bow contestants in the grassy field - who looked straight out of Robin Hood, and applauding the native folk dancers of Scotland and Ireland, we pedaled on. Our next stop was the Retford BritRail station for train reservations to London. From there, a short jaunt to Sherwood Forest.
[As I write, it's now 11:30 p.m. sitting in the dining room of Holland Park Youth Hostel in Kensington. Time to finish up about Sherwood Forest.]
We found the BritRail station by a variation of the hunt-and-peck method: hunting friendly locals and pecking answers out. At the station the stationmaster punched his computer - three travelers with bicycles.
"The mid-morning trains are fully booked," he said, looking at us from under his green billed accountant's cap.
"That can't be," I said, "surely we can get seats."
"Yes, there are plenty of seats, but no space for bicycles."
We booked passage on the early train arriving Retford at 9:30 a.m.
Leaving the train station, a taxi driver described the most expeditious route to the camping area at Clumber Park in Sherwood Forest. He promised that it was no more than five miles. If anyone should know distances, it should be a cabbie. Something about his demeanor made us suspicious of his information. It looked on our map to be further. I had pedaled 70+ miles, was weary, and not in a mood to pedal further.
I pedaled further.
More blue flowers - fields of them. No one was able to tell us what they were. They looked, as you came upon them, like small ponds of still water.
[Much later in this journal's history: these flowers were fields of flax.]
Finding Sherwood Forest and Clumer Park was easier than finding the camping area in the park. After a few false starts, we settled on "the road." I had now pedaled 80 miles and was not anxious to spend another minute on my bike. I was hungry. It was 7:30, time to set up camp and relax.
The park was serenely beautiful. A long paved lane flanked by massive old oak trees led into the forest, with outlying meadows and scattered trees beyond. Expansive rhododendron shrubs, three weeks past pink bloom, banded together in informal design. Lilac bushes, my favorite spring flower, still blossomed. Day-use visitors were tucked here and there under trees and along hedgerows. Cyclists pedaled by. I observed this while leaning against a lumpy tree trunk waiting for Earl and Tracy to report back on their campsite quest. I read Jane Eyre, laying aside my book after every couple of pages to submerge myself in the scenery.
Grimy and wanting showers precluded us from tossing our tents behind a clump of trees. We carried only a couple of full water bottles each, not enough for cooking and washing. Tracy reported back, "About a half mile down the road is Sherwood Forest's equivalent of KOA. You won't like it much." Alikening a camping area to a KOA campground was as negative a declaration as could be made. I expected the worst. I wasn't sure I could pedal another 360 deg. rotation of my legs to get there, however.
We pedaled slowly down the center of a large rectangular green lawn lined with tents, their back doors against the 10 ft. high brick walls which enclosed this area. English campers drag behind their four wheeled vehicle all the amenities of home tucked up inside an enormous tent replete with "windows." Young children played and newly arrived dogs sniffed each other in greeting. We were assigned our place at the far end. Amongst the camping condos surrounding us, our three bikes and one-man tents looked small and insignificant. The arrangement of those brick walls made me curious as to the original use of the site: house and enclosed paddock?
Our dinners were "use it up tonight" leftover provisions. At home I would call it "cleaning out the refrigerator," here it was "clean out the panniers." I feasted upon hot canned stew, banana, dark rye bread and water to wash it all down. Not inspiring, but quick, easy, and pannier-clearing. All the food had to go, no matter how odd the combination.
We explored these woods. A beautiful old chapel nestled in a glen. Views from the windows framed Mother Nature at her forest best. A group off in a large field played cricket. Leashed dogs, their noses tracing invisible trails on the ground, dragged their owners this way and that. We seemed alone in the vast open space. This would be a nice place to revisit. We watched the sun set behind the trees at 9:45. The southern shift in our latitude had made a marked change in the time of sunset. I crawled into my tent, snuggled into my sleeping bag and slept. I was too tired to write.